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SOUNDTRACK: THE HU-“Wolf Totem” and “Yuve Yuve Yu” (2018).

The HU are a band from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia who plays what they call Hunnu Rock.  There are four guys in the band: Gala, Jaya, Enkush, and Temka.

They have recently posted two videos online (after having been a band for about seven years).

Two of the men in the band play the morin khuur (морин хуур), or horsehead fiddle.  It’s a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. It is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation.  The third member plays a shudraga, a three-stringed lute-like instrument which I suspect is being run through some distortion pedals.

Their instruments are beautiful with intricate designs on the neck and the heads.

Despite the traditional instruments, The Hu play very heavy music.  The shundraga appears to be playing some heavy chords, while the morin khuur play lots of cool solos.

The first song, “Wolf Totem” opens with what sounds like 1,000 thumping drums.  The morin khuur plays a bowed melody as the chanted vocals come forward.

The vocals are something of a guttural growl, but it makes sense as what you might think a Mongol leader might sound like.  There may even be some throat singing.

I also like that there’s an eagle call at the beginning and end of the song.

The fact that the video includes a host of leather jacketed motorcycle riders chanting the choral HU is pretty awesome.  And the Mongolian scenery is breathtaking.

The second song is “Yuve Yuve Yu.”  I’m mentioning the video first because it contrasts nicely.  It shows all the band members inside, playing video games, watching TV–very Western stuff.  But when they open the door of their flat, they find themselves outside on the plains.

The first guy steps outside to find his shudraga.  The riff is a but more substantial on this song, but only slightly.  It feels less like a call to arms and more like a song.

Although with a chorus (in Mongolian) of

Hey you traitor! Kneel down!
Hey, Prophecies be declared!

This seems more of a call to arms than the other.

There’s a cool sliding violin riff an instead of the guttural chanting there’s  a relatively high-pitched sung “doo do do” melody.

Both of these songs are quite cool, especially the accompanying videos.  The band has received some attention for the videos (which is how I found them).  They’ve even got their songs on bandcamp.

I’m curious to see if this will translate into somewhat mainstream success in the west.

[READ: January 10, 2019] “Whisky Lullaby”

This excerpt from a longer story is perfectly written–I loved the way it was presented and how the “ending” was revealed (it’s an excerpt, so not the real ending).

Hamid is a Muslim man living in Scotland.  He has recently married a Scottish woman, Ruqiyyah, who had converted to Islam a few years ago.  She was seeking a partner and he was seeking citizenship.

“She had not always been Ruqiyyah, she once was someone else with an ordinary name, a name a girl behind the counter in the Bank of Scotland might have.”

As the story opens, Ruqiyyah is holding a bottle e of Johnnie Walker.  It is his Hamid’s bottle and she shouldn’t know about it.  She is very unhappy about the bottle.  Being an intense convert plus being Scottish, she takes things like this far more seriously than he does.  He knows it is wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, drinking (instead of writing his PhD thesis) is pretty harmless compared to black magic, adultery, abusing your parents.  This was human weakness and wasn’t Allah all-forgiving? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMELIA CURRAN-Live at Massey Hall (April 29, 2016).

I knew of Amelia Curran but I didn’t know her work before this show.

She says that growing up in Newfoundland it’s all about original music and the oral tradition and story discovering.  She loves to play at the pub back home.

But she continues that when you move into a more professional scene–recording your first album–you also become a Canadian musician, which is an extra thing that happens later.  You look to Neil Young and Joni and Massey Hall.  You come from a musical place like Newfoundland and then coming to Canada and “arriving.”

She plays great folkie songs.  Lyrically her songs are rich, but I find the drums to be quiet compelling on most of the songs.  There;s nothing flashy, but I really like the way the drums are somewhat unconventional or rhythmically interesting, like on “Song on the Radio.”

She is also quite sweet as she says, “Well thanks, oh golly.”

After “Blackbird on Fire” she says “the teenage me on the inside is really freaking out.”

Before “The Reverie,” she says “I’d like to play you a love song and to introduce you to this handsome fellow on the electric guitar Dean Drouillard.”

Before the nest song, “The Modern Man: she says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know if you know, but this handsome lad on the bass guitar has the best hair in the business.  This is Devon Henderson”

And before “The Mistress” (which is probably her biggest hit), she says “I know it’s hard to believe but there’s even more handsome up here.  This man behind me on the drums is Joshua Van Tassel.”  This song is more jagged and sharp than the others.  It’s a darker, more pointed song and it’s really great.

“Devils” is a slower, moodier song, with snaky electric guitar leads.  Next up is “Time” which is  a beautiful song that’s just her on the acoustic guitar.  It’s quite different from the other songs, much more stark.

For the final song, “Somebody Somewhere,” she says, “Here’s a happy-sounding song I wrote about being depressed.”  This song has more great drums and some cool guitar sounds that change on each verse, including a great buzzy sound during the second verse.

[READ: June 18, 2018] “Omakase”

Even though I love sushi, I had never heard of the titular “omakase” which is a meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef, typically with suggested wine pairings.  And frankly it’s something I’d likely never do (if I was paying for it).

This is the story of a couple who’d met online two years ago.  Three months ago they had moved in together.  They both liked sushi and omakase–they liked the element of surprise.   It also worked for their personalities–she second guessed herself too much and he liked to go with the flow.

They went to a tiny room with a sushi bar and cash register.  The woman (their names are never given) imagined it could fit no more than six people.  How had he even heard of it?  There was a young waitress and old sushi chef who ignored them longer than she imagined they would.

The story leaves the meal from time to time. The first time is for aside about New York City trains.  How she has not gotten used to the subway and the delays.  Tonight’s delay was because of someone jumping in front of the tracks.  In Boston people rarely did that, “probably because the trains came so infrequently, there were quicker ways to die.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS FORSYTH & THE SOLAR MOTEL BAND-Dreaming in the Non-Dream (2017).

I was anticipating watching Forsyth at the end of last year but the show sold out on me.  (Note: he is playing nearby this Friday).

I heard about him from a stellar Tiny Desk Concert and was totally psyched to hear this four-song full length album.

The disc opens with the 11 minute History & Science-Fiction that starts with a slow bass line and lots of percussion.  After a short intro the guitar comes in with whammy bar’d chords.  It resolves into a really catchy “chorus” and then a slow down that reminds me of a softer “Marquee Moon.”  But instead of turning into a rocking solo section, it totally mellows out, with keyboards and cymbals and a pretty guitar melody.  It slowly builds out of that by switching from organ to sax.

“Have We Mistaken the Bottle for the Whiskey Inside” is the only song with words.  Of the four it’s my least favorite, but that’s only because I like his guitar playing better than his singing.  It’s a fairly simple riff–kind of Crazy Horse-ish with Forsyth’s deep spoken-singing asking the title question.  After about 3 and a half minutes, the song starts to pick up speed and turns into a huge freak out of noise and chaos. 
“Dreaming in the Non-Dream” begins as a simple picked guitar line repeating.  Throw in some a steady drum beat and some buzzy synths and the song starts to build. And then Forsyth’s soloing makes an appearance.  At first he is just playing harmony notes alongside the lower notes but at the 2 minute mark, the full throttle wah-wah guitar soloing takes off (the backing guitar also throws in some cool wah-wah, too).  And the song runs as a full instrumental for over 15 glorious minutes.  But it is not just a 15 minute guitar solo.  The whole band gets involved–the rest of the band is fully present and there’s a synth solo.  But it’s all within that catchy melody line.  Fifteen minutes never went by so fast.
 “Two Minutes Love” is a beautiful two-minute song.  Gentle guitars interweaving over lush bass lines and twining with the other guitar.  It’s a nice delicate end to that spiraling CD.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Obama: An Intimate Portrait

Sarah got me this book for Christmas and it is awesome.  I wanted to spend 2018 looking forward, getting past the dumpster fire of 2017 and hoping we can move past what we are bogged down with.  #ITMFA #RESIST

But this book was just an amazing look back and something that gives me hope that we can move forward past what we have now.

Pete Souza is a tremendous photographer and this collection offers amazing access to a President who was full of gravitas and thoughtfulness.

We were concerned that reading this would be too depressing given the State of our country and the Embarrassment in Chief.  And in some ways it was depressing.  But in many ways it was what it was intended to be: inspirational.

It’s hard to believe that before our Chief Idiot was bumbling his way through life and giving literally zero thought to anything except his own ego, we as a country had 8 years of a leader who, these pictures show, put serious thought and concern into (almost) everything he did.  Obama was never quick to do anything–he was often mocked for his slow speech patterns–but this is a job where rushing to judgment never does anyone any good.  And you can see the pressures of the world weighing on him.

But this book is not all about pressure.  There are delightful moments of joy–with his daughters, with delightful citizens, with staff and of course with Michele. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS-Christmas Caravan (1998).

The Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas album is pretty much what you’d expect.  Part swing, but far more old-timey sounding.  This disc is comprised of originals and some unfamiliar covers.  I really like the swinging parts, but some of the slower songs are a bit too slow for me.

“Winter Weather” is my favorite song on the disc, with the cool drawl of, I assume Katharine Whalen, and the neat horn accents.

“Indian Giver” is an original.  Despite the offensiveness of the premise of the song, it swings nicely.  “A Johnny Ace Christmas” is a bluesy original song, I rather like the guitar parts that sprinkle the verses.  “My Evergreen” is another original.  It’s a slow shuffle that kinds of drags the album a bit.

Things pick up with a ripping “Sleigh Ride” It’s all instrumental and features that great moment in the back half where things slow down and then they bring it back up really big.  Good fun.

“I’m Coming Home for Christmas” is a slow original full of longing.

“Carolina Christmas” picks things up again with a hopping shuffling number about Christmas in Carolina.  “Gift of the Magi” is a slow ballad.  It is a retelling of the O. Henry story, Gift of the Magi, told in verse.  It’s a rather clever retelling of the story.  The duet format is pretty effective for this number.

“Hot Christmas” is a horn-filled swinging instrumental (with occasional chants of “hot Christmas”).  It’s got some good swing and lots of horn solos.

“Hanging Up My Stockings” is a slow swing number.  It’s earnest and sweet.  After a small pause, the disc tacks in the the original version of the song bu Chester Church on a crackling vinyl platter.  It is sweet and unassuming just like the lyrics indicate: “I want to show old Santa Claus that I believe.”

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Edna in Rain”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

I loved this story as well.  Edna is walking down the street when the first one falls from the sky.  Kevin is the first one–he was the one who could do that amazing thing “where you flip the girl from the top to the bottom without letting go.”  She caught up with him a little and then she went on her way.

The Marisa fell out of the sky.  It was nice to see her but by now, they had both moved on.

Then came Brent and Rico. (more…)

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